There’s a lot about Black Mass to be curious about above and beyond the cruel and captivating life of New England’s gangster patriot, James “Whitey” Bulger. The wacky mishmash of an all-star cast (wait, was that Peter Sarsgaard?), the super slick 70s art direction, the cars (OH MY GOD THE CARS)… But, gangster movies can go so wrong so quickly. And are you really willing risk your intimate relationships with Johnny Depp on what could easily be an overdramatized, underdeveloped, and generally unwatchable goon pageant? It’s a tough call, but after giving it a full 2 hours and 2 minutes of my life, I’ve boiled it all down to the 5 essential questions (and answers) that you’ll want to review before handing over your hard earned ticket money:
1. How bad were the accents?
Pretty bad, in sum total. The very first note I wrote to myself during the movie was “Where my Wahlberg’s at?” Doesn’t everyone know that a jarringly bad Boston accent can kill even a good movie (not that I’m saying this is a good movie)? Like they couldn’t even find a single qualified Boston-born actor to get in there? Seriously, I would have even accepted Donnie.
I’ll get into the most egregious offense in the next question, but the accents in this movie ranged from cartoon thug to “Dennis Leary should smack you in the mouth for what you’ve done.” All at varying dissonant levels. Although, most distracting were the accents that wove through traffic like a drunk driver. Kevin Bacon‘s “head of something FBI-fancy” accent started weird and strong, and then just disappeared mysteriously by the next scene. Dakota Johnson‘s barely-trying Southie tart drifted in and out depending on how much she was required to emote. Which, luckily wasn’t too much, but long enough for me to decide that she’s terrible and that her only real talents appear to be looking a little rough, and squeezing out of Melanie Griffith‘s botoxed vagina.
2. Really, Benedict Cumberbatch?
Yeah, really. As a carrier of a long time Sherlock boner and a general fan of lanky horse-faced British men, I long believed that Benedict Cumberbatch could do no wrong. His crushing performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy still makes me misty every time I think about it. And, of course, KHAAAAAAAAAN! But, it appears that we’ve finally hit the wall on his versatility. How much do I really even need to say about his “the Queen meets Ted Kennedy” accent? It’s a wreck. It’s an embarrassment to us all. I had to look away from the screen every time he opened his stupid mouth. But even more so, I was repeatedly jarred by just how wrong he looked in this world. Even as the uptight, upper-crusty, gone-straight brother, his oh-so-British face just does not fit. I thought for a minute that he MUST look just like Billy Bulger, and that’s why they would bother with such awkward casting decision… but NO. The really Billy looks like a member of the fucking Lollipop Guild. It’s just opportunistic casting by Scott Cooper, trying to cash in on a little of the Cumberbatch Oscar gold. But, I suppose that’s what we can expect from a grown man who still styles his hair like Mark McGrath.
3. How good was Johnny Depp’s wig?
SO GOOD. Fantastic, even. I should send the Black Mass hair and makeup team a cookie bouquet or something, because a series of ultra-realistic progressively receding hairline wigs, faux dead tooth, and some very unsettling ice blue contacts had Johnny Depp completely transformed into this creepy bastard, to the point where I often forgot that it was him. I was only ever pulled out when the light would catch on his exquisite bone structure for a moment. Tragically for Bulger, the dead tooth was accurate but the cheekbones were not.
4. What is Adam Scott doing in there?
I’m still not sure. He had like 8 lines. 8 non-essential lines, and then he spent the rest of the time hanging out in the background at the FBI looking a little confused and tense. He does look pretty good in a mustache, but otherwise added nothing. Same thing goes for this other semi-important FBI guy who I’ll just call “browbones” (played by David Harbour), whose entire character was based on sustained frowning.
I still love you, Adam (you too, browbones), but your existence in this movie is really drawing attention to the “problem area” that is zero character development. We don’t ever get to know anyone, have any insight into why they’re doing what they’re doing, or, most of the time, why they’re even in the room. This is not acting, it’s a historical reenactment.
5. Why do they call him “Whitey?”
This movie isn’t going to tell you, which I found profoundly irritating. If you want to ruin the mystery (and I do), a cursory Google reveals that it was a childhood nickname, given to him because he had white-blonde hair. Not nearly as exciting and macho as I was hoping for, except for the part where I learned that his preferred nickname was actually “Boots.” That’s still pretty great.
But, let’s go back to the part about no character development. It’s not just the nickname that never really gets discussed here (other than that he didn’t like it). We get no history with Whitey, no peeps into the origins of this paranoid, remorseless, killing machine. It’s just head shot after head shot, occasionally punctuated with a severe beating. Kinda boring.
So, does anyone actually NEED to pay $10 to see this business? Yeah, I think they could. Although it has the emotional depth of a Discovery Channel true-crime docu-drama, it’s still a pretty interesting story, and Johnny Depp acts the shit out of that lousy script. Basically, it sucked, but I didn’t hate watching it. I’ve been more bored and irritated at way better movies, so to get me to pay attention for a full 2 hours is something. Maybe it would be something to you too. At the very least, you’ll get to see Johnny’s magnificent cheekbones flip over a few tables.